The driveway is where a young Ryan Donato worked on his shot and his accuracy.
Pucks rested on a slide board or plexiglass, and the Wild winger would hurl them at his target ... some of the time.
“I would shoot on the net, not to my neighbors’ liking. Sometimes I’d hit their houses,” he said.
But instead of arranging the pucks so he’d have a clear path for each attempt, his dad — former NHLer Ted Donato — told him to shoot from the pile so Donato would have to drag the puck before flinging it.
And he did, focusing on how quickly he could pull and let go.
“It paid off,” Donato said.
Now, as a pro, Donato’s release is one of the unique qualities of his shot — a skill that has been on display during his debut with the Wild after he was traded from the Bruins last month.
“I’m not comparing him to [Alex] Ovechkin,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But one of the things that Ovechkin did really, really good was when he came down the left wing, as soon as the defenseman opened up his legs, he would put it through his legs and pull it. Donato is something like that. I’ve seen it in a few of his goals here so far. He’s pulling it and changing the angle of the puck.”
Slinging pucks isn’t the only way Donato practiced his shot as a kid in Scituate, Mass., which is about an hour from Boston.
He exercised his forearms, curling a hockey stick that had weights tied to it, and he also worked with shooting instructor Glen Tucker — who crafted a program that develops the accuracy, speed and efficiency of a shot.
What also helped was being around the NHL while his dad Ted played, and Ted talked about how stars such as Joe Sakic and Brett Hull were known for their releases.
To this day, Donato works on his shot every single time he takes to the ice. He pays attention to where his hands are on the stick, his positioning and how far he drags the puck in before burying it. Donato also is aware of the goalies he’s testing, their strengths and where their equipment cuts off.
“There’s definitely a bunch of things that I think about that I definitely didn’t think about as a kid,” he said.
That punchy release, though, that he honed as a child is what’s helping him contribute to the Wild since he joined the team Feb. 20.
Donato pulled the puck in before wiring a shot by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist during a 2-on-1 rush that opened the scoring in a 5-2 win for the Wild last Saturday. And he also moved it wide before unleashing it for the game-winner in overtime Feb. 24 against the Blues, a 2-1 victory.
Donato has four goals and 13 points in 14 games with the Wild — a stretch in which he’s racked up 42 shots, which is second to only winger Jason Zucker (43) on the Wild in that span.
The 22-year-old lefty had five Tuesday during the 3-1 loss to the Avalanche, which tied for the game-high, and a shoot-first mentality is another trait he’s brought to the Wild.
And with the team clamoring for more offense as it continues to chase a playoff spot with eight games to go, that’s exactly the approach it needs.
“You always want a puck and stick in your hands if you love hockey,” Donato said. “So for me, I was always wanting to shoot.”